Amazon has consistently defended its safety record following exposés by the Center for Investigative Reporting over the past year documenting injury rates higher than previously reported at its warehouses.
That was the tone of a Nov. 1 letter, made public Tuesday, that Amazon sent to Senators Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, and Joseph Kennedy III. The senators contacted Amazon with a series of questions after the organization published its latest report on warehouse safety.
“At Amazon, we are known for obsessing over customers — but we also obsess about our employees and their safety,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, in the letter.
But the company’s critics in government remain unconvinced.
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“Amazon could take immediate action to address the injury rate at warehouses — allowing the work to slow down and ending productivity monitoring — yet the company seems unwilling to address the root causes of high injury rates at their warehouses, or acknowledge a link between productivity demands and injuries,” the senators said in a statement.
Amazon is under related scrutiny in the other Washington, the company’s home state. The Washington labor department said this week it will increase Amazon’s workers compensation premiums by 15% starting Jan. 1, the Seattle Times reported. Rates are typically calculated based on injuries reported in each industry group and other warehouse companies reportedly complained to the state that Amazon’s high rates were increasing premiums for the entire category. After the change, the warehouse industry will see a 20% reduction to its premiums.
The latest CIP report describes a high-pressure environment inside Amazon warehouses that leads to higher injury rates than other e-commerce businesses. Injury rates at Amazon have gone up each of the past four years, according to the report, and the spikes are more severe during peak shopping periods, like the holiday rush that is currently underway.
The senators’ questions hinged on whether high injury rates are associated with Amazon’s “performance target expectations,” which they call “a set of quotas that are simply rebranded with company-specific lingo.”
Amazon tracks performance targets to ensure that employees are completing a certain number of tasks per hour. A warehouse worker might be expected to pick 31 items off shelves per hour, according to the letter. A gift wrapper could be expected to wrap 21 items per hour.
Amazon said it surveys employees and accepts feedback on safety protocols through a variety of channels. The senators asked if Amazon surveys workers about the performance targets and their impact on safety. Amazon said that it doesn’t have a “question with this specific language, but we do ask about site leadership’s response to safety, and whether safety is prioritized at the site.”
In their statement this week, the lawmakers criticized Amazon for failing to connect performance targets to injury rates.
“Amazon’s performance expectations are setting workers up to